IRVING -- Texas A&M and Oklahoma are 10-2 teams that had hoped for a better postseason destination, but getting paired in Friday's 77th AT&T Cotton Bowl ensured that the winner will leave Cowboys Stadium on a high note.
The former Big 12 rivals made the 7 p.m. kickoff one of the toughest tickets to get.
"When you sit back and look at this game, besides really the national championship game, as far as exciting matchups for bowl games, I'd put ours up there with anybody," said A&M first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin who worked for OU head coach Bob Stoops from 2003-07. It's one of the game's many storylines. Sumlin was a co-offensive coordinator his last two seasons at Oklahoma, and both coaches have thrived using up-tempo, spread offenses.
Stoops is 149-36 in 14 seasons, and Sumlin is 45-19 in five seasons. Both have a knack for finding and growing all-conference quarterbacks.
A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, becomes the eighth winner of college football's most coveted award to play in the Cotton Bowl after winning the honor and the first since Texas running back Ricky Williams in 1999.
Oklahoma also has an outstanding quarterback in Landry Jones, a four-year starter who has thrown for a Big 12 record 16,368 yards and 122 touchdowns.
The Sooners are 39-10 under Jones, who is unbeaten in bowl games and 2-1 against A&M.
"There is nothing that he hasn't seen," A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "It seems like he has been there forever. We have to try and pressure this guy, because he is good, even under pressure."
Oklahoma is averaging 505.9 yards per game, which ranks 10th nationally.
The 12th-ranked Sooners, Big 12 co-champions with Kansas State, have won five straight since a 30-15 loss to top-ranked Notre Dame. Jones has thrown for 1,970 yards during the winning streak with 17 touchdowns.
"The way he has played down the stretch for us has been fabulous," Stoops said. "We have great confidence in Landry. We recognize what a great quarterback Johnny Manziel is, but we love our quarterback as well."
The 10th-ranked Aggies have better offensive numbers, averaging 552.3 yards per game for third in the country. Manziel has accounted for a Southeastern Conference-record 4,600 yards, getting 1,118 of them rushing. He has seven 100-yard rushing games.
"If you do not cover guys, he puts the ball where it needs to be," Stoops said. "If you do cover them, uh oh, there you go, he's running. He just has a knack for making something happen even when you have played well."
In charge of slowing down Manziel and A&M's offense will be Stoops' brother, Mike, who is back as OU's defensive coordinator after eight seasons as Arizona's head coach.
"He plays to his strengths, and they play to his strengths," Mike Stoops said. "He doesn't try to be someone he's not, and that's a guy who understands his game. And that's just one guy. They have 10 other really good players."
A&M's ability to be so offensive in its first season in the defensive-minded SEC also adds to the matchup. A&M went 4-5 in the Big 12 last season, including a 41-25 loss at Oklahoma. A&M was 6-2 in the SEC, going 4-0 on the road including a 29-24 victory at defending national champion Alabama.
"It has been quite obvious to everyone that they brought a Big 12 offense to the SEC and have lit it up," Bob Stoops said. "The way they spread it out, they've handled those SEC defenses fairly well. In the end, that is what you notice."
OU, like A&M, thought it might get a BCS invitation to the Sugar Bowl to play another SEC team, but instead the Sooners will be playing in their third non-BCS bowl in the last four seasons.
Still, the Sooners aren't crying over a chance to play in a marquee matchup.
"We realize what a good game [this] is," Stoops said. "We realize the whole public out there is anticipating the game."